By Kyle Daubs

Everyone will be looking for a better showing Saturday. 

Both the Charleston and Mattoon cross country programs laid the foundation for the season last Saturday at the Charleston Invitational. While neither boys nor girls team placed higher than eighth overall, there is optimism that both teams could be competing at a higher level within the next several weeks. 

Both schools will next compete at Peoria’s Detweiler Park, home to the state cross country meet and a course that often yields great times, for the First to the Finish race.

“That course is cross country heaven, and I’m hopeful that our crew takes advantage of the opportunity,” said Charleston boys coach Greg Rogers. 

Rogers saw his boys place 14th of 15 teams last Saturday, but, he says, that single meet won’t dictate the rest of the season, especially when the Trojans were missing several key contributors. 

“I’m looking forward to seeing our team at full strength when we run on Detweiller,” said Rogers. “If the weather holds up, my goal for Luca Carcasi is to break the 17-minute barrier, and I believe he is fully capable of that. Blake Homann, our top freshman, had a strong showing at the Charleston Invite last weekend and I think he is capable of bringing his time down even lower.”

Freshman Luke Newell did not compete for Charleston last past weekend due to a soccer game, so Rogers is curious to see how he runs in his first high school race. Austin Sikorski did not run at the Charleston Invite due to illness. 

“I was not thrilled with our team place at the Charleston Invite, however, two of our top 5 boys did not run,” said Rogers. “Also, I think our boys put in solid efforts, which I can never be disappointed about. We have to continue to find ways to improve, and it’s no secret that it will be by working hard each day at practice. I’m also looking for our boys to bring more confidence and willingness to lay it all on the course. My perception is that sometimes we’re more willing to hurt in workouts than during a race, and that has to change.”

The Charleston girls placed the best out of both teams with eighth place overall. Junior Whitley Wood paced the pack with a time of 21:20. Unofficial state qualifier Ila Richter ran her first race since ACL injury, while the team awaits word on the health of freshman standout Hadley Webb. 

“We were missing one of our top 5 on Saturday, who was out sick,” said Charleston girls coach Chris Hawk. “I’m looking forward to having her back with us. I’m also hoping freshman Hadley Webb is cleared to return to activity this week, even though she won’t be racing yet.  This should just be a good opportunity for our girls to get back on Detweiller’s course and try to take another step forward as a team.”

Hawk said that the Trojans are still trying to piece everything together and that Detweiler should be a good test for his young team. 

“I was happy with the efforts Saturday, but, as a team, we’re far from satisfied with where we are currently,” said Hawk. “We came into the season with several out or recovering, so we don’t expect to be at our best until mid to late season. Ila Richter was one of those coming back from ACL surgery. She ran well this weekend as our number two finishers. I’m also looking forward to seeing how junior Whitley Wood continues to improve. She was our top finisher on Saturday, setting a new PR by nearly a minute and a half.”

Mattoon placed ninth with the boys and 12th with the girls last Saturday. This will be the first time that the Green Wave will participate in the First to the Finish Invite. Normally, the team would be in Springfield, but head coach Troy Haacke thought it would be a great experience for the team to run at the state meet. 

“We got into it so all the kids would have a chance to run at Detweiler,” said Haacke. “This will be our second meet of the season and we typically see a nice drop-in time from the first meet to the second meet. Plus add the environment that this race and course provides and I think the kids will be excited with their times. We are still trying to gain experience and learn how to race 3 miles for a lot of our runners. Each race we will continue to get better.”

Brock Davee, who placed sixth at the CHS Invite, is in contention for a state berth this season. Davee has not officially run at the state championships before, while the girls will gain a great deal of experience, given that four of the top five runners are freshman or sophomores. 

“I was happy with the race Saturday, the kids ran as hard as they could and competed,” said Haacke. “I saw some great finishes and a lot of fights in them.  It gives a benchmark to start with.  I know we have some work to do, the fun part will be seeing how much time they drop from now till the end of the season.”